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When Alan Vilchock purchased a 1960s ranch-style home in Sparta four years ago, the three-bedroom, two-bathroom house only needed a few modifications.
The work was mostly painting, getting new windows and kitchen counters, and having the wood floors refinished.
A little more than two years later, in July of 2016, he married his girlfriend, Elizabeth. They decided they could increase enjoyment of their 1.69 Sussex County acres by adding a swimming pool to the property.
“We knew we wanted a pool and a great space to enjoy the backyard with family and friends,” he said.
So, a few months after their wedding, they hired a pool builder to begin work in fall.
“It was a way to save a little on the cost of the pool,” Vilchock said of the October 2016 start of what would be a year-long project. The timing paid off with a late-season discount on the project despite some installation challenges.
When the pool company began excavating, they found a significant amount of stone throughout the backyard.
“There was actually a possibility it wasn’t going to happen,” Vilchock said. “If we hadn’t been flexible, the cost would have been crazy.”
Being flexible meant accepting that the 36-foot long, free-form concrete pool and circular spa they wanted could only be sited in one area of their backyard. Being flexible also meant that they would get a few more surprises the following May when they hired a landscape firm to install a patio and complementary plantings.
Their property had numerous elevation changes that needed to be graded appropriately to install the patio. Beyond that, their landscape contractor, Kris Holland of Black River Landscape Management in Rockaway, needed to control drainage for the project.
“In this instance, there is a hill that comes down near the pool,” Holland said. To prevent runoff into the pool, they needed to build a 4-foot-tall retaining wall. Built of Cambridge stone pavers, it extends about 100 feet around one side of the pool.
Because of the challenges with underground stone, Holland said the pool company could not set the pool as deep as they would have ordinarily. The pool also needed to be installed closer to the house than what would have been ideal, he said.
“When we have a blank canvas, we will usually do a larger patio coming out of the house because you don’t use your pool all year long,” Holland said. “We will often have a big section for eating and barbecuing and have it lead to a separate patio for the pool.”
At the Vilchock residence, they were somewhat limited in the patio’s design because the distance between the house and the pool was about 14 feet at the closest point. The pool’s curvaceous shape was a godsend, however. They were able to enlarge the patio area nearest the home’s back doors to make way for a dining table, a grill and a grouping of six lounge chairs.
The biggest challenge related to the pool’s placement was drainage, however. With the height of the pool’s finished top and pavers that introduced impervious surfaces, the patio design needed adjustments to manage stormwater runnoff. A slight slope in a patio typically encourages water to drain to a desired area. At the Vilchock property, they could not have water running off the patio into the pool, so the only option was to pitch the patio toward the house – a potential nightmare for a home’s foundation.
“We had to come up with a drainage solution to make sure there wasn’t ever an issue,” Holland said. To avoid water in the home’s basement, they installed an oversized drain. “It’s six inches wide with grates over it, and it runs along the length of the back of the house,” he said. The drain then channels any water onto an open area a safe distance from the house, he said. “We had to get very creative on that one.”
With the “hardscaping” completed, the firm’s designer could go to work on the landscape. Plantings needed to be outside splash range of the saltwater that’s used in place of chlorine to sanitize the pool.
“We definitely stayed on the side of lower maintenace plants,” Holland said. “Both people in that house work a lot, so we didn’t want to install things that would take them a lot of time to maintain. It is also a very sunny backyard, so we chose things that would be able to handle a day of full sun.”
The landscape’s shrubs include boxwood, spirea, skip laurel and dwarf hydragea complemented by a variety of ornamental grasses such as variegated liriope and fountain grass. Flowering perennials such as dwarf coneflower and coreopsis also were used. The plants are expected to be protected from the area’s deer populationby by the fencing that encloses the pool area.
Vilchock, who works in construction, says they put new siding on the house so it would look great alongside the pool. However, the backyard project is their biggest spend so far, he says.
He and his wife, a teacher, have enjoyed the pool, but perhaps not as much as their black labrador, Brewski.
“We have a dog that loves water,” Vilchock says. “We can’t keep him out of the pool.”
While the home’s people may not be quite as avid about swimming, they and their guests love to gather in the pool to cool off in depths that go from 3 to 7 feet, Vilchock says. “Being able to come home and relax and enjoy yourself … it was totally worth the investment.”
What they renovated
They installed a pool, patio and landscaping in the backyard of 1960s ranch house in Sparta.
Who did the work?
Pool by Anthony & Sylvan of Fairfield; patio, retaining wall and plantings by Black River Landscape Management of Rockaway.
How long it took
“They started on the pool in late October and it was filled with water in June,” Vilchock said. He explained that there were weather-related delays and that they needed to have their backyard fully fenced in before the pool could be filled. The patio and landscaping took roughly one month, he said.
What they spent
The homeowners would not disclose the cost of the two-part project, but Alan Vilchock said it exceeded $50,000. Kris Holland of Black River Landscape Management said most homeowners can budget between $20,000 to $25,000 for a patio and landscaping around a backyard pool.
Where they splurged
“There were a few more additions that we originally did not plan on (retaining wall and drainage system), but if you’re going to do something, you might as well do it right the first time,” Vilchock said.
How they saved
“We decided to go with a slightly smaller (landscape) design than the one that was originally proposed,” Vilchock said. “We over-designed it and then we scaled back. We picked out what we really liked, and we changed what we didn’t.”
What they like most
What they’d have done differently
“We would have done it sooner,” he said.